Dear Sean Spicer,
If your first press conference as White House press secretary is any indication of what's to come, then the next 1,458 days will present unprecedented challenges for you and your office, as you lie, spin, wordsmith, intimidate, and camouflage on President Trump's behalf, under the guise of holding the press "accountable".
On Saturday, you threw down the gauntlet. "There's been a lot of talk in the media about the responsibility to hold Donald Trump accountable, and I'm here to tell you that it goes two ways," you proclaimed, after assembling a group of journalists in order to berate them for reporting the very obvious truth that Trump's inauguration was under-attended. The 45th president's numbers were nowhere in the vicinity of either of Obama's inaugurations. There were fewer people on the Mall than Obama drew, and even fewer in the parade stands, which in countless shots from a number of different camera angles and vantage points along the parade route appeared damn near empty.
Trump couldn't give these tickets away! And for good reason. Because Rep. John Lewis was right. As though regurgitating from notes taken furiously from Trump's histrionic dictation, you declared, "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe." Will such denialism be your go-to move each and every time the truth conflicts with the misremembering or incorrectness of your aggrieved boss? If so, what a Sisyphean task to undertake! It might be easier to give your boss a reality check, and then duck and cover.
Instead, you went down to the press room and claimed that "photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way, in one particular tweet, to minimize the enormous support that had gathered on the National Mall." The angle that was used was from the top of the Washington Monument, which seems like a pretty solid vantage point to me to gauge crowd size, given its height and positioning.
You continued: "This was the first time in our nation's history that floor coverings have been used to protect the grass on the Mall — that had the effect of highlighting any areas where people were not standing, while in years past the grass eliminated this visual." The floor coverings were used for Obama in 2013 — they are not brand-new, as you claimed, but rather you couldn't see them during Obama's inauguration because people were actually standing on them.
In an interview on MSNBC's Meet the Press, Trump's former campaign manager and newly named White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway, defended you. When Chuck Todd asked her why you would "utter a provable falsehood," Conway deflected and called your lies "alternative facts." The internet has other phrases for it; social media users employed the hashtags #SpicerFacts and #SeanSpicerSays to mock blatant mistruths. In one meme of the Titanic sinking, for example, you are portrayed as spinning the crisis: "We had a record number of passengers, everyone enjoyed themselves, again contrary to what the liberal media is reporting."
— Jamie Todd Foreman (@Jamie_Foreman) January 22, 2017
Are you familiar with the term "gaslighting"? No need to look it up — it's what you're doing here. It's also what Jon Voight did a few days ago at the pre-inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial when he stated, Lincoln "is smiling knowing America will be saved by an honest and good man who will work for all the people, no matter their creed or color." I assume Voight was referring to Trump as an "honest and good man." Is this the same "honest and good man" who proposed a temporary ban on Muslims and a Muslim registry, referred to Mexicans as rapists and called for a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, and thinks that women are objects that he can grab by their genitalia with impunity? Surely Lincoln, he who freed the slaves, would not be smiling about a man whose "Make America Great Again" slogan was received by the KKK and alt-right as code for white supremacy. Voight further averred that America had "been witness to a barrage of propaganda that left us all breathless with anticipation, not knowing if God could reverse all the negative lies against Mr. Trump, whose only desire was to make America great again." "Negative lies against Mr. Trump"? Since when is a hot-mic recording of one's own voice bragging about sexual assault, or a televised press conference calling for Russia to commit cyberespionage, a negative lie?
Both you and Voight are misrepresenting reality in a way that is intended to make us question our own sanity. But while we are pulling down history books, reviewing photos and videos of current events, and fact-checking ourselves, we are missing the point. There was something else much more important that was occurring this weekend. It was the beginning of an historic new movement for equality.
Your press conference made no mention of the Women's March, which was the actual news story of the day. On Saturday, one million people showed up in Washington to protest Trump and to advocate for progressive causes — reproductive rights, immigration reform, LGBT equality, Black Lives Matter — that are imperiled by his administration. You said that Senate Democrats' "stalling the nomination of [CIA Director] Mike Pompeo and playing politics with national security" was what the media "should be writing and covering, instead of sowing division about tweets and false narratives."
Not so, Mr. Spicer, and you know it. They and you should have been speaking to the contemporaneous Women's March in D.C., and what the president's response will be to such a clear, resounding repudiation of the policies he and his administration stand for. You should have been speaking to the Women's Marches that also occurred in Boston and Los Angeles and Seattle and Austin and Denver and Portland and Raleigh and Chicago and London and Antarctica and so on. Your non-responsiveness to these peaceful, grassroots-organized, heavily attended (with the exclusion of Antarctica) demonstrations speaks volumes.
My partner and I marched in Los Angeles, Mr. Spicer, and while the final tally of attendees is not in yet, the crowd of Angelenos swelled into the hundreds of thousands. The Women's March puts the number of attendees in L.A. north of a half million, if not at 750,000, and aerial shots taken during the event suggest they might not be far off. Your job as press secretary includes apprising the so-called populist president of what the people are saying, and bringing back his response if he's not going to speak for himself. Your job is not scolding the media because Trump's feelings were hurt by a camera angle that exposed him as less the people's president than he purports to be.
We already know that Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million, and that his approval rating is in the basement. Reprimanding the National Park Service for re-tweeting The New York Times photograph of his under-attended inauguration, and barring them from using Twitter until they receive further guidance from your administration, won't conceal the truth. Calling every unfavorable news story "fake news" won't work. This isn't Russia. Directing the press about what they "should be writing and covering," while evading the biggest news event of the day and refusing to take any questions whatsoever, won't change the fact that the Women's March by some estimates is the biggest protest in U.S. history.
This morning, Trump gaslighted us on Twitter, still using @RealDonaldTrump instead of @POTUS, "Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn't these people vote?" We did vote, Mr. Trump, and we didn't vote for you. You lost the popular vote by two percent, even with Russian interference.
Sean, if you're not going to hold your boss accountable to the truth, I will: Mr. President, the people protesting are the majority of America. This is what "winning" the wrong way — the illegitimate way — looks and feels like.
RAN AUBREY FRAZIER is a talent manager at Authentic Talent & Literary Management. Follow him on Twitter @tanranman.